Meredith Quartermain was born in Toronto. When she was 11, her family moved to BC to the remote village of Argenta in the Kootenays, where she formed a lasting interest in the histories of humans, plants, animals and rocks. Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking (NeWest 2005) won the BC Book Award for Poetry. Daphne Marlatt described the book in the following way: “Walking cinemas, civic memory tours, these poems are sites for the eruption of public history chronically denied but there as trace in the very names that mark our streets.” Quartermain has since published Matter (Bookthug 2008) and Nightmarker (NeWest 2008). Nightmarker continues the exploration of cityscapes begun in Vancouver Walking. Early work includes A Thousand Mornings(Nomados 2002), a poetic diary of Vancouver’s dockside area, and [with Robin Blaser] Wanders (Nomados 2001), her poem answers to 19 poems by Robin Blaser. She has given numerous public readings across Canada, in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, and her work has appeared in many Canadian magazines, including The Walrus, CV2, the Literary Review of Canada, Prism International, The Capilano Review, West Coast Line, the Windsor Review, Canadian Literature, and Matrix. She is co-founder of Nomados Literary Publishers.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was in high school. I was inspired by reading the English Romantics, especially Keats and Shelley. They wrote about the natural environment, and where I grew up there was a lot of pretty wild bush, mountain and lake terrain.
Later when I was in university I was intrigued by the poetry of Robert Creeley—the simple, plain-speaking, everydayness of it really appealed to me, and I began keeping journals where I would jot down poems.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Places have inspired me a great deal, especially places I’ve lived in and roamed about in. But I’ve come to see that places are also places in language. It’s the geography of language that often intrigues me most. This could involve etymologies, semantic networks or grammatical relations.
History has also been an important source for me.
What is your writing process?
My writing process varies with the kind of work I’m doing. Both the books on Vancouver involved extensive reading of other literary works and research of history. Before writing Vancouver Walking, I read Ezra Pound’s Cantos and from this work I learned new ways to paste my observations into historical and archival research. They also involved a lot of journal work, especially going to various locations and journaling in those locations.
My writing process also involves a lot of trial and error. I move words and phrases around on the screen and try them in different ways. I also do linguistic research. What are the roots of the words I’m using? What happens if I break a grammatical rule? What happens if I substitute a word with one from a completely different context?
What is your revision/editing process?
The most important strategy is to leave pieces alone for several months. Don’t look at them, forget them. Then when you read them again, you see right away what is not working, what is trite or blah, or what needs something added.
I plan to rewrite extensively, sometimes changing almost every word.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
After reading English Romantics in high school, I started writing little odes to things in the woods and meadows, the sky, the lake that I found around me. I was imitating the style and rhythms of the English poets. I think only my parents ever saw these early creations which were soon lost in one of our many moves. I left home, worked for several years, and earned two degrees in English at UBC. My studies had made me familiar with North American writers such as William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, and Robert Creeley, who eventually influenced my own work, as I began jotting things down in journals. Many years went by before I published anything.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
All forms of research are extremely useful. I start with direct observation but I’m especially fond of reference books of all kinds, be they dictionaries of gastronomy, or dictionaries of angels. Etymological dictionaries and thesauruses are also among my favorites. My book Matter is based on one section of Roget’s Thesaurus. I also like guides to plants, animals, minerals, astronomy, you name it. While I was writing Nightmarker, I used Bowditch’s Practical Navigator. Google will also find you much interesting factual material. And don’t forget City and provincial archives.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
It would have been good to know that each writer must remake the language for himself or herself. Each writer must test out the weight of each word and sling it in the way that’s correct for that moment. You discover the poem as you write it.